NSA helped Microsoft make Vista secure

The U.S. NSA had a hand in the development of Windows Vista, the agency confirmed Tuesday

The U.S. agency best known for eavesdropping on telephone calls had a hand in the development of Microsoft's Vista operating system, Microsoft confirmed Tuesday.

The National Security Agency (NSA) stepped in to help Microsoft develop a configuration of its next-generation operating system that would meet U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) requirements, said NSA Spokesman Ken White.

This is not the first time the secretive agency has been brought in to consult private industry on operating system security, White said, but it is the first time the NSA has worked with a vendor prior to the release of an operating system.

By getting involved early in the process, the NSA helped Microsoft ensure that it was delivering a product that was both secure and compatible with existing government software, he said.

"This allows us to ensure that the off-the-shelf security configuration that the DOD customer receives is at a level that meets our standards," White said. "It just makes a lot more sense to be involved up-front, than it does to have the tail wag the dog."

The NSA's involvement in Vista was first reported Tuesday by The Washington Post.

The NSA has provided guidance on how best to secure Microsoft's Windows XP and Windows 2000 operating systems in the past. The agency is also credited with reviewing the Vista Security Guide published on Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft declined to allow its executives to be interviewed for this story. But in a statement the company said that it asked a number of entities and government agencies to review Vista, including the NSA, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Still, the NSA's involvement in Vista raises red flags for some. "There could be some good reason for concern," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). "Some bells are going to go off when the government's spy agency is working with the private sector's top developer of operating systems."

Part of this concern may stem from the NSA's reported historical interest in gaining "back-door" access to encrypted data produced by products from U.S. computer companies like Microsoft.

In 1999, U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon said that "high level deal-making on access to encrypted data had taken place between the NSA and IBM and Microsoft," according to EPIC's Web site.

With Vista expected to eventually power the majority of the world's personal computers, it would be tempting for the government agency to push for a way to gain access to data on these systems, privacy advocates say.

The NSA provided guidance on Vista's security configuration, but it did not open any back doors to Windows, White said. "This is not the development of code here. This is the assisting in the development of a security configuration," he said.

While the NSA is best known for its surveillance activities, the work with Microsoft is being done in accordance with the NSA's second mandate: to protect the nation's information system, White said. "This is the other half of the NSA mission that you never hear much about," he said. "All you ever hear about is foreign signal intelligence. The other half is information assurance."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?